Thursday 26 March 2015

Three Very Different Owl Cards

As I have mentioned before a lot of people I know love owls and I am always on the look out for owl designs. I like to use different styles in my cards to reflect the recipient. Last year I made three very different owl cards.

The first was a lovely blackwork owl, I love the simple effectiveness of blackwork. It was a really easy design to follow. I used this kit from x-calibre designs. It only has 3 basic fill designs which prevents it from being overcrowded and fussy. The shape is lovely and makes the design quite cute. I would highly recommend this design for a beginner. I backed it on card with no other embellishments as I felt this allowed the design to be shown off.

X-calibre Designs Blackwork Owl

The second card design came as part of the free gift with The World of Cross Stitch magazine issue 216. There was a small booklet of 'luxury designs' and two medeira threads. The design was really clever as it used different thread thickness to create the shading. At first glance you assume that they use 4 threads as opposed to one strand and two strands of the two colours they give you. They also use stitch free areas well to include white in the design. I chose to sew on evenweave as I feel it gives a better finish. Once again I kept things simple when making the card up and just used an aperture card. It is a lovely design although it did take quite a bit of stitching as there is a lot of solid colour. They are all full stitches with no fractional stitches and the backstitch is only used for the tummy. The simplicity of the design and pattern combined with few colour changes make it another pattern that would be good for somebody starting out.

The World of Cross Stitch - Issue 216  - Pink and Turquoise Owl

My third owl card was made with felt and I found the pattern on a great site full of ideas and felt birds. This design was incredibly simple and took even less work than my Felt Triceretops. The feathers are only attached at the tops which gives good texture and doesn't take a lot of sewing. I opted for button eyes and I felt the shine on the buttons was nice as it made me think of seeing the flash of an owls eyes at night. The tutorial is really helpful and the pattern pieces are all there to download. The feathers were attached with a simple slip stitch in the co-ordinating colour, the face was blanket stitched on and the beak was backstitched in brown thread. I wanted it to be quite bold and used the burgundy to lift the grey and brown. I loved the co-ordination with the burgundy aperture card. 

Felt Owl using Downeast Thunder Farm Pattern

Monday 23 March 2015

Oystercatchers and Puffins

Following some dithering I decided to buy the Tilda collection . Although I only wanted 2 out of the 4 books it still seemed worth the investment for those two. They arrived and were beautifully presented in a little box with good quality paper and hard backs. The design and layout was very stylised. They are a thing of beauty. I decided I wanted to make four sets of puffins and oystercatchers. These were for birdy friends who would appreciate them for being fun and different.

I had read in reviews of the books that the small pages made photocopying the patterns difficult. This did not really bother me – enlarging them was not too difficult and it is something that I have to do a lot with patterns anyway. What did strike me was the lack of instructions. I have made quite a lot of soft toys by different designers so I am lucky that I know roughly what I am doing but I had to read the instructions a few times before starting. If somebody was new to toy making I would send them away to practice on a lot of other projects first. I would recommend Sewn Toy Tales by Melly and Me or Sew Cute to Cuddle by Mariska Vos-Bolman. If you were a confident sewer but had never made toys I would possibly use Google for some of the specific terms.

I didn't want to make 4 identical pairs of birds, and so I had good fun finding different black fabrics. I used some batik, some spotty and some that had a small floral pattern on them. I used white fabric with white patterns on, again in spots or flowers. I love white patterned fabric as it lifts a design and adds texture. After my initial reservations I was pleased with the design. One of the nicest  features is  that you piece fabric together before sewing, giving a good seam match. I also liked the slits for turning the wings as it was effective and easy to hide when it was all put together. Putting the bird bodies and wings together happened quite quickly. I changed the oystercatcher's eyes as the white would not show on my fabric and I wanted them to be black and orange like in real life. I had my reservations about adding in the sticks for the legs and beaks. Just stabbing wood into fabric to make a hole seemed a little unrefined although I cannot deny that it was effective. With tiny buckets filled with oasis and a pile of local pebbles and stones I glued on the bits with a hot glue gun and my oystercatchers looked good. Finishing the puffins was a harder task. 

Painting sticks was nice and easy but painting on fabric scared me. I will admit that I put it off for a while! My problem was three-fold 1) I wanted more than just an orange bill so needed to change the pattern, 2) I have no artistic skill when it comes to drawing/painting bits on and 3) I knew if I went wrong it would be "start again time". I also had a small issue with the book as it said craft paint which I initially took to mean general poster type paint. After much discussion with friends I became less sure about using this. I carried out some test pieces and found that the paint worked ok but was bleeding out a bit on the thinner fabric. In the end I decided that I needed fabric paint. After a chat with my local art shop I found out that you can add it to acrylic paint to make fabric paint. This was really useful as it allowed me to choose from a lot of colours and the left over can be used by my husband for any art projects rather than being fabric specific.

The results were really effective, like most soft toy creations they seem to get different expressions just by eye placement and small differences in seam allowance make all the difference in shape and proportions. I felt each pair worked well and the recipients were very happy - albeit one had a very confused cat!

Close up of Tilda design Puffin and Oystercatcher

Four sets of Tilda design Oystercatchers and Puffins 

Friday 20 March 2015

Sock Owls

My little sister, her best friend and my niece all love owls, they all love socks and they all have birthdays in October. My sister had shared a link to this site on Facebook so I could not resist trying it. A friend had made me a sock monkey in the past which is amazing so it was something I was tempted to have a go at and was inspired by the variety of creations.

I stocked up on nice thick socks intending to make a few different animals for a lot of different recipients. The tutorial is really well put together with a lot of photos and step by step instructions. In fact it is so well laid out that it makes them look simple, although they felt far from simple when putting them together. There is a lot of judgement in the shaping and placing of features, and there is no way of making a standard pattern as each sock will be a slightly different shape and/or size so it is logical that you translate the shapes onto your own sock. The other thing I found out is that "sock fabric" has a mind of its own. It stretches where it wants to stretch; if you use thick socks, as I did, the weave on the inside makes it hard to get the machine foot over without it snagging. Some of my owls had stripes so I used a lot of pins to match the stripes at the seam.

One of the nicest features of the design is the small weighted bag inside, made out of the end of the plain sock. This allowed the owls to "sit up" and not fall over. After a couple of attempts I got the eyebrow/ears in. At first I was too hesitant to use a  big section of the head fabric to make the ears, but I would say the main thing with this tutorial is to get stuck in and just be confident following the design. I found the wings easy to do and attach as long as the pattern was well matched on the seam. The eyes were also easy to attach but the beak was very very tricky. I used some orange t shirt fabric as I could not find any orange socks (I have since found lots of orange socks!). It took a lot of fiddling to get one side on and then a lot of stuffing and tucking to get the other side on. As the picture shows some of the beaks are more central than others, though I think this just adds to the personality! I love the way that the expressions develop while you are occupied with actually getting the beak on. You look up and all of a sudden they are done!

I was pleased with the result and everybody seemed pleased/amused by it. I would recommend the tutorial and it was good fun to make. I got quicker as I went through all three and even the beaks got easier. It is definitely correctly tagged as an "Intermediate tutorial" but worth the perseverance in the end.

My little sock owls - Craft Passion design.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Felt Triceratops

My friend's little boy turned one (even though I have no idea where the time went!). When he was born I made him a dinosaur using a Melly and Me pattern so I decided that it would be quite nice to stick to this theme when it came to his card. Also my husband and little girl are quick to remind me that "dinosaurs are cool!". I was working on quite a time consuming gift (blog to follow at some point) so I needed a simple card.

I found a lovely, and quite simple, colouring pattern here. I traced the whole picture and then traced all of the parts/features separately. I tend to use baking paper to trace as it is cheap and quite hard wearing. I then cut templates from my tracing and pinned it to the felt that matched each part. This was a really simple design so I only had three colours to work with.

If I am doing a more complicated appliqué pattern I sometimes colour in the original to make sure I am happy with the combination. With all the parts in place I simply pinned them together and blanket stitched round the base piece to secure it to my plain backing fabric. I used calico for the backing as it is hard wearing and easy to work with. I then blanket stitched on the body, head and legs. The "toes" I added with satin stitch. The eyes and horns were quite small so I used a running stitch and the nostrils were French knots. I think it is important to keep an open mind about the stitches you use in this kind of piece. Although blanket stitch gives a great finish, especially on felt, it does not work as well if it is cramped together on a small detail like the eyes. The toes were too small to use felt so the satin stitch allowed great coverage. French knots were my nemesis for a long time but after a lot of practice I managed to get consistency. I now love French knots as by altering the number of strands of thread and the number of times it is wrapped around the needles you can create a lot of variation. I used an aperture card to mount my appliqué and in the end I was very happy with my cheeky looking Triceratops.

Felt appliqué Triceratops 

Thursday 12 March 2015

Turtle Doorstop

During a conversation with my niece about her wanting an Avengers bag, and my younger sister wanting a sock owl (blogs to come) it was revealed that my big sister wanted a turtle doorstop. I decided that she should be careful what she wished for and that I would make her one. Turtles unfortunately do not really lend themselves to door stop designs. They are quite flat and the way their limbs stick out they become a trip hazard. A tortoise could almost work as a doorstop,  if you tuck the feet in a bit and add the weight to the bigger domed shell, but a turtle was not going to work.

I decided that what I needed instead was a doorstop decorated with turtles. If I am looking for a good durable fabric I tend to use calico, I find it a reasonable price and hard wearing and it is easy to work with. Initially I thought about dying it and then I realised that it was the colour of light sand. This made me decide that it would be a pretty design to put small turtles onto it as if they are making their way to the sea across the sand. I also made a conscious decision to omit any predators as that would make less of a pretty present! I used coordinating light green fabric for the sides just to add a contrast.

Before constructing my doorstop I stitched my design for my front sand-coloured panel. I drew some turtles using this guide. I then cut the whole shape out of light green mottled  fabric followed by the shell in dark green fabric. I then attached the shell using iron on interfacing. I blanket stitched the body onto the panel followed by blanket stitching on the shell. This meant that the top blanket stitch went through 3 layers of fabric. It did make it harder to stitch but also made it all more secure. I embroidered the shell details on using back stitch.

For the base of the doorstop I used a cube design that I found here, keeping the dimensions the same. I adore this tutorial; not only is it helpful with a lot of pictures but it has a very chatty style and feels personal, and it turns out I also think she is funny when she's over tired! I made a couple of small changes. Instead of Velcro I used a zip at the bottom and instead of a zip-lock bag I made two pouches to go inside; the top one was filled with stuffing and the bottom filled with rice. This made it lighter to post and means that she can still take them both out and then squish them back in after washing. I was pleased with the result - it was about as classy as a turtle doorstop could be and she seemed happy with it too.

Turtle doorstop.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Skirts of Round and Square

What is easier than making a dress? Making half a dress! What is half a dress? A skirt - Hurrah! Skirts are wonderful - they are, generally, not as fitted as a dress and after the success of the skipping skirt I decided to try some of the wonderful free patterns I found online. I was intrigued by the idea of a pattern that only requires the length of the skirt and the waist measurement. I found a simple circle skirt pattern for myself - when I was little I loved full circle skirts, there was something magical about spinning and the skirt fluttering.

I wanted a knee length circle skirt but as I am only 5ft 1" it was nice to be able to get it to sit where I wanted it to. I found a pattern on J and O fabrics through Pinterest. I chose a very pretty teal Jersey fabric as I felt it would sit nicely, and spin well, and I had drawn up the pattern, cut the fabric and attached the waistband all in under an hour. I have learnt that I get the best fit of a waistband by sewing the top of the waistband to the seam created by attaching the base of the waistband. This leaves all the stitches hidden. With a skirt put together in no time at all I was very proud of myself. Then came the hem. I have no love for hems and I spent a LOT of time trying to figure out the best way to do it from the following options;

1) A roll hem - this didn't work as the fabric stretched and rippled too much.
2) Hand sew, this didn't work because I did not have all the time in the world to sew that much hem and I struggled with the tension of the slippy fabric .
3) To do a really thick hem with the sewing machine; this didn't work as there was still stretch and it weighted it down too much.
4) Stretch needle - this helped but didn't give the best finish
 5) Twin stretch needle - this was the first time I used a twin needle. I consulted the manual and the internet and found it surprisingly easy to set up.

Getting the tension right with the twin stretch needle was another matter. I wanted the lovely zig-zag behind the two lines and I just could not get it right. In the end I played with adjusting tensions using some standard cotton fabric, instead of the jersey, and putting different colours on the needles and bobbin. This allowed me to see the problems clearly and adjust accordingly. The weave of the jersey was so tight that it was not showing up. With this issue sorted I started to sew the hem, there is a definite trick to getting it just on the fold with the zig-zag incorporating the hem but I loved the effect. It was not too heavy, and the double hem looks really neat.  It took a really long time, most of which was spent with my head in my hands, but in the end I learned a lot. If I made another I could do it a lot quicker. I am quite happy with my skirt after it all... and it turns out spinning is still fun!

Me in my circle Skirt - J&O Fabrics design

My circle skirt in a spin.

I applied the same design for my daughter using some pretty pink cotton and finished it using bias binding. I love using bias binding to finish a child's skirt after it worked with the skipping skirts. It worked really well and took no time at all. I then made a handkerchief skirt for her following a tutorial I found here. I used a basic rolled hem on the squares before attaching them. I did an enclosed waistband as opposed to the plain elastic one. I felt this gave a better finish. The points sit really nicely and it is a versatile piece as it looks fab with leggings or bare legs.

Toddler circle skirt - J&O Fabrics design

Toddler handkerchief skirt - belle bebes design

Pretty Makower Ripples sands Fabric

Thursday 5 March 2015

A Vision in Purple

As I may have mentioned I was bridesmaid for my friend; this meant that I had a beautiful dress made for me and saved me the worry of finding something to wear. I did still need to come up with something for my little girl. After making the 80s style dress for the hen I was full of confidence that I could make a simple children's dress.

I went to a lovely pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee - Sew Your Own Wardrobe book. The design  is pretty with a lined top attached to a skirt, the seam is covered with ribbon and there is a zip in the back. The instructions were clear although I got a little frustrated that there are not 'front' and 'back' views of all the garments in the book. I went shopping for fabric at Nimble Fingers in Lerwick and found some really pretty purple-shot crepe. From some angles it looks blue whereas from others it looks pink. It had a lovely weave and no stretch. The pattern used two different fabrics but I was looking for a party dress, not an everyday dress, so I used one.

Child's party dress using Sewing Bee pattern.
I cut the top of the dress with the weave running horizontal and the skirt with the weave running vertical. This only worked because there was no stretch to the fabric. This helped show the two different colours off. I had no problem with the pattern layout as I don't mind it all being colour coded on a large sheet. I did, however, have two issues with the pattern; the first was that the sizes on the pattern piece were incorrect, which was confusing, and the second was that there is no size chart for the children's garments in the book. There are men and women's charts and they explain clearly that these differ from the sizes in shops, but I had no way of knowing if the dress I was making would fit my daughter. I found this incredibly infuriating and an avoidable oversight.

The dress is lined and embellished before it is sewn together at the side seams. I did not trust myself judging the pattern by eye and I was not sure it would fit as I did not have a chart to check the measurements. I decided to put the zip in and tack the rest, I put together the basic dress with no lining and no embellishments in order to fit it. As it happened the 3 year old dress size fitted fine (she was 2 and a half at this point). I then took apart the tacking stitch and put it back together as instructed with the lining and embellishments. Even though it fitted fine I was pleased that I did it that way as there is no point in going to the effort to make something if you don't make it actually fit. I was just pleased it was for my little girl as she was there for fittings, but if I had been making it for a child who I only had the measurements for then I would have had no hope.

I know some people would say that you could make up a pattern after taking measurements but if I was that skilled I would not have got a book full of patterns. I was pleased with the way the dress came together - the most problematic part for me was getting the ribbon on straight and matching at the side. The ribbon I chose was different and quite pretty as it had sequins and silver embroidery on it. It was a bit more "bling" than normal but I felt this added a party dress feel to the outfit by being something special, and I used purple buttons on the shoulders. I loved the finishing touches and embellishments to this design and I feel this made it special.

To co-ordinate with the dress I made her a little bag. the fabric I chose was lilac with purple fairies, castles, frogs and toadstools. It was "girly" but not over the top and I loved it when I bought it a year ago. I lined the bag with some of the left over fabric from her dress and made it reversible. I found the pattern and tutorial online. It was the perfect size for a few small toys to keep her occupied during various parts of the day.

Coordinating "book tote" bag

My final piece of coordinating clothing for the wedding was a tie for my husband. I had never made a tie before but I found the process straightforward. Unlike most ties the one I made was fully lined. I used black lining left over from the hen dress to go with the purple. I found a pattern and great tutorial. The main thing was getting the grain of the fabric to line up correctly with the pattern. It also took a huge amount of fabric for something that seemed so small. The main difficulty was keeping it straight and getting a good point at the tip. I was pleased with it and would happily make more ties in the future should there ever be a need.

Our daughter was also chuffed to be matching her Daddy!

Purple Tie.

Monday 2 March 2015

Big Brother backpack

My friend announced that she was expecting a second baby and as usual I got very excited about sewing for a new baby. I then decided that I also needed to sew a big brother present for her 3 year old. I was 4 and a half when my little sister was born so I always think it is important to point out what an important job being an older sibling is and a small gift seemed a great way of doing this.

I followed a fantastic tutorial which I had used once before. When I made it last time I scaled it up for an older child which worked really well. This time I made it the size it was in the tutorial. I love the shape, practicality and finish of the bag. The main pocket and the two side pockets both have elasticated tops which make them easy to get into without any tricky clasps for little hands. The tutorial itself is fantastic - it has lots of really helpful photos at each stage and is very clear about all of the equipment you need from the start.

 It is lifted from an ordinary backpack to something a bit more special with the use of the piping round the edges. I felt this gave it a more professional finish. The one thing that I did change was the straps, as both times I made it was for a child that I did not have in front of me to measure, so I added in adjustable straps. The bag itself was very easy to put together and the only part that was a little tricky was making sure that it all went together smoothly at the top where the elastic casing went in. This was mainly because I was sewing through a lot of layers.

I used Makower pirate fish fabric that I had bought from my local fabric shop. I used both the cream and navy version as I felt it made it more fun and chose a bright orange that I had in my stash. I chose to trim the flap of the bag in red piping and sides in yellow to compliment the different fabrics. The last I heard it was full of toys and packed lunches so I think it was a hit.

Fishy Toddler backpack.